Yes, They Make Their Own Decisions
It goes without saying that admiring her incomparable beauty is the first step toward getting any cat to love you. Next, you might try some respectful adoration. And it’s advisable to bear in mind at all times that cats are not dogs. One hesitates to make generalizations about any species, but cats are not slavishly motivated to please you, as dogs often are. They don’t necessarily like to ride in cars or fetch your slippers. A lot of cats don’t even like to be picked up and hugged. When they choose to love you, they do, in their own way. But they don’t, as a rule, jump up to greet you and lick your face. There are exceptions, of course. Once, when I visited my friend who runs the local animal shelter, I ended up adopting a cat who, upon my opening his crate to say hello, stood up on his hind legs, put his front paws around my neck, and licked my face. I wasn’t planning to adopt a cat just then, but what choice did I have after such a greeting? However, that is another story for another post.
This post is about Fiona. I first met Fiona in 2009, about a year after I had been diagnosed with breast cancer. At the time, Fiona was eight years old, and was, I was told, a dilute, or muted, tortoiseshell, something I never knew existed. She lived with a neighbor who had herself recently been diagnosed with breast cancer. My neighbor was already disabled and was trying to simplify her rather chaotic home. She had three small dogs who were adorable, but not particularly well-behaved or nice to cats. She also had three cats, who had established a strict pecking order, with poor Fiona at the bottom. Between the yappy, aggressive dogs who chased her, and the other two cats who bullied her, Fiona was a very frightened, unhappy girl who spent most of her time hiding in a small storage room. My neighbor had a heart of gold, but not necessarily the wisdom to realize that she ought perhaps to have stopped adopting pets at one of each. She did, however, realize that Fiona was miserable and asked me if I would adopt her. At the time, I had one cat, a shy, inoffensive black Persian male named Jett, and Foxy, a gentle, old, Nordic mix dog who happened to love cats. So, I agreed to take Fiona home.
The first thing I did was to let poor Fiona have her own room until she felt equal to meeting any new animals. She spent the first several hours of that first day hiding under the guest room bed, but by the afternoon, she began to emerge when I visited her. It took a few days for her to brave the rest of the house, but when she did, she soon discovered that Jett only wanted a mother substitute for my cat Chloe, who’d fulfilled that role until she died earlier that year. And Foxy was savvy enough to keep his distance, and approach gradually, until Fiona realized he wouldn’t bark at her or chase her.
Within weeks, Fiona was relaxed and happy. Her amazingly soft fur was even fluffier, and she now slept with the rest of us on the bed at night. She and Jett would usually bracket me while I slept, with Foxy at the foot of the bed, facing the door as he always did at night to guard us against potential marauders. Eventually, Fiona even snuggled up with Foxy for the odd nap.
Five weeks after Fiona moved in, I ended up adopting another cat, a gray and white tail-less Manx named Teddy, who was twice as big as Fiona and Jett. It wasn’t the best timing ever, but I’d promised another friend that, if she ended up having to live in a nursing home, I would take Teddy in. Well, she did, and I did. I was worried about how Fiona would react, but she clearly felt she had the upper hand, since she was there first. Poor Teddy, on the other hand, had never lived with any other animals before, so he won the guest room for a while until he learned that it was not acceptable to boss around the other cats, and that it wasn’t entirely horrifying to live with a dog. It all worked out. After all, I was the human, it was my house, and my rules. Everyone got loved, and I didn’t put up with any nonsense. If Teddy needed any further convincing, Fiona flipped all twenty pounds of him on his back one day right into the water dish when he got a bit rambunctious. He behaved himself after that.
Shy little Jett preferred to sit beside me, but not on my lap. Teddy liked to be picked up and hugged when I came home, but mostly, he liked to lie on his back, displaying his white tummy in hopes that someone, anyone, would rub it. Fiona became my lap cat. She hated being picked up, but if I left her to her own advances, she would hop into my lap or onto the table whenever I was using a computer. Thus, she appointed herself my blogging assistant. A close-up from this photo became my Gravatar icon, and shows up whenever I comment on a blog. Indeed, she became an all-around champion snuggler, attaching herself to some part of my body when I was sleeping, reading, having my morning coffee, or checking my email. She had a particularly endearing habit of draping herself on my arm in bed, and tucking her face into my hand. My Facebook friends have seen ample evidence over the years of her snuggling talents. Here are a few illustrative photos.
Early in 2010, sweet little Jett died of an abscessed tooth combined with old age. Later that year, in November, I had to make the awful choice to let Foxy go, after watching him suffer with advancing arthritis, increasingly painful mobility, and confusion caused by dementia. A few years later, Teddy succumbed to feline infectious peritonitis. It was heartbreaking to lose each one of them, but it helped that I still had a fur baby or two to comfort me after each loss.
I was worried that Fiona would now be lonely at home while I was out at work, but she rose to the occasion and reveled in having me all to herself. She began to talk more, in her slightly raspy, expressive voice. She had never been very sociable when humans came to visit, but now she became Miss Congeniality, greeting friends and contractors alike. She was particularly fond of my electrician. I did finally realize that she missed her big, fluffy cuddle-buddy Foxy, when she took to sleeping on the guest room bed during the day, curled up with a toy horsie who was about Foxy’s size. Still, she was happy, healthy, and gracefully approaching her old age. Until she wasn’t.
The first crisis occurred a few years ago, when she developed hyperthyroidism, a common ailment in older cats. After fiddling with oral medication for a year, I had her treated with radioactive iodine in August of 2015. It worked. No more pills, and she was once again robust. A year later, she started to have a few brief bouts of vomiting, nausea, and diarrhea, but they cleared up in a day or two. Until they didn’t anymore. A few weeks ago, she began having these episodes every other day. Her regular vet was maddeningly passive. Fiona was not getting better, she was not getting enough nutrition, and she was becoming dehydrated. I got the vet to order full labs and an abdominal ultrasound, all with inconclusive results. Not once did the vet offer relief for Fiona’s symptoms, until I insisted on it. Finally, I’d had enough, found another, much better vet, and took Fiona to see him this past Tuesday. We came up with a provisional diagnosis and a treatment plan. If I wanted further diagnostics, he suggested I take her to the specialty emergency vet hospital. I decided I’d see how she responded to treatment and go from there. Later that day, she became exhausted and weak, and by nightfall, she developed labored breathing. I was scared now. I drove through the pouring rain at nine o’clock that night to the emergency hospital. The vet on duty was kind, persistent, and worked hard to assess her as quickly as he could, with a minimum of misery to Fiona, to come up with some answers. The answers he arrived at were that she had extensive cancer of the small intestine and sepsis. He did say that surgery was possible, but given her current weakened state, I felt it would be risky and that she had suffered enough. He agreed. At 11:30 p.m. on Tuesday night, he gave her the appropriate injections, and Fiona died while I kissed her forehead.
I can’t begin to describe how shattered I have felt this week. I have not been without at least one pet since 1981, and usually, I’ve had two or three. The house is so empty, so still. Sometimes, I imagine I hear little paws pattering on the floor or seem to feel the pressure of four feet landing on the bed to keep me company. I never can seem to get warm enough at night, no matter how many blankets I pile on or how high I turn up the thermostat. For thirty-six years, there has always been a furry face or three waiting to greet me at my door when I came home. I grieve mightily for sweet Fiona, but also for every pet I’ve lost. I’ve never set out to adopt any of the strays or rescued pets I’ve loved. They’ve always appeared, on their own, or at the instigation of someone else, when they needed me. Eventually, I am sure that another will arrive when I’m ready. But for now, I need to sit with this enormous grief that I know is just the flipside of the enormous love that all these fur babies have shown me over the years. People who think that animals do not love are fools.
So, I feel heartsick and blessed at the same time. I will admit that I often prefer animals to humans, but the outpouring of concern and affection I’ve received from so many friends, in person and on social media, has touched me and given me much comfort. More than that, it is a needed balm at a time when many of us are flabbergasted and concerned about our present political climate. It’s a reminder, when I very much need one, that there is still decency in this world. Thank you all for the love, and not only just this week, but over the years. And especially, I thank those of you who’ve loved Fiona, too.